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Assad Launches ‘Last Phase’ of Aleppo Massacre with Sectarian Momentum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People ride a vehicle past a crater in the rebel-held Qadi Askar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Beirut-The Bashar Assad regime has launched what was likely to be the “last phase” of the massacre in Aleppo with a sectarian momentum and with the participation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the so-called Lebanese Hezbollah, and a new Iraqi Shi’ite “armored” faction which is financed by Baghdad and receives equipment from the regime.

After the Iraqi Shi’ite satellite TV network “al-Nojaba” broadcasted news about the arrival of the leader of al-Nojaba militia at the airport of Aleppo last Sunday to check on his fighters, a commander of an Iraqi Shi’ite militia fighting in support of Assad told Reuters a large force spearheaded by an elite unit known as the Nimr, or Tiger, forces had started to move in armored vehicles and tanks for an attack on rebel-held areas east of Aleppo.

In Beirut, a source close to the Tiger forces told Asharq Al-Awsat that fighters from the factions were getting monthly salaries from the Popular Mobilization in Iraq and from Iran. The source said the Assad regime offers them heavy weapons, such as tanks and armored vehicles.

“The heavy weapons are already present in Syria in the absence of a ground route to transfer them from Iraq, from where the fighters arrive through Lebanon,” he said.

The source, who is visiting the Lebanese capital, revealed that the Tiger forces, formed by Iraqis taking part in Syria’s war, include around 2,700 fighters.

“Those fighters are the products of several ruptures from the ranks of important and known Shi’ite factions. Some of them were separated from the Badr Organization, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, another part from the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, headed by Qais al-Khazali, and a third part had split from the Iraqi Hezbollah,” the source said.

He added that these ruptures were the result of differences on the priority of fighting. Some of these factions believe that fighting should start in Iraq while the others think it should be in Syria.

Asked whether Iran was angry with those factions splitting from their main groups, the source said: “Iran does not have a problem with those, and it does not care if such a group decides to split or not. Iran needs human resources ready to fight in Syria.”

Adding to the sectarian sentiment already staining the Aleppo battle, head of Lebanon’s so-called Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah, was quoted in a Lebanese newspaper as saying “there are no prospects for political solutions … the final word is for the battlefield.”

Meanwhile, four Iranian fighters were killed in Syria during the past few days, including Mohammed Baqir Soleimani, head of the Iraqi Asa’ib Ahl a-Haq militias fighting in Aleppo. Soleimani is close to Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

On Tuesday, Syrian regime forces and their Russian allies heavily pounded the opposition-held sector of Aleppo on several fronts, the biggest ground assault in the new campaign that was launched following the collapse of the ceasefire.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization called for the “immediate establishment of humanitarian routes to evacuate sick and wounded” from the besieged eastern part of Aleppo.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Krista Armstrong said there is a desperate need for medical evacuations, adding that hospitals are short of surgical trauma items and blood products for transfusions.

The ICRC said there are only 35 doctors in Aleppo to treat the wounded.